Published Sep 29, 2019With a premium placed on shorter, economical sketches and no Pete Davidson in sight for the whole show, Saturday Night Live began season 45 very politically but satisfyingly, with good turns by host Woody Harrelson and musical guest Billie Eilish. Here's everything that happened this week.
The cold open
Unavoidably, because of the news cycle, SNL had to open with Alec Baldwin as Trump (didn't he say he wasn't going to do this anymore?) dealing with his whistleblower/impeachment issues and the show trotted out a slew of impressions of people like Rudy Giuliani (Kate McKinnon), Bill Barr (Aidy Bryant), Eric and Don Jr. (Alex Moffatt and Mikey Day), Mike Pence (Beck Bennett), Kim Jong Un (Bowen Yang), Kanye West (Chris Redd), Don King (Kenan Thompson) Jeanine Pirro (Cecily Strong), and Liev Schrieber, playing himself, though Trump believes he's calling his Ray Donovan character. As usual, the idiocy of these real people and their actual actions deserves more scrutiny and satire than pretending to dress and sound like them, and SNL fell short of doing anything incisive or particularly funny here.
☎️#SNLPremiere pic.twitter.com/YIB9ReNd3p— Saturday Night Live - SNL (@nbcsnl) September 29, 2019
Got a problem that needs fixing?
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Woody Harrelson began his monologue in a tuxedo, as a fashionista, and later wound up in shiny silk pajamas, but the main thrust of his spiel was about him making politically incorrect speech and jokes that might offend marginalized people. It was the show's first (and ultimately only) acknowledgment of their Shane Gillis fiasco from a couple of weeks ago and it was clumsy, unfunny, and, however cowardly it might have appeared, they may have been better off ignoring the controversy completely, as they haven't presented themselves as intellectually equipped to properly deal with it.
Impeachment Town Hall
The first proper sketch of the night was… another cold open? This CNN impeachment town hall bit, framed as a Democratic primary debate, was cameo-filled, and Larry David and Maya Rudolph were particularly amusing as Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris, with Harrelson also getting a huge laugh with a funny joke/analogy about Joe Biden and drinking straws. A bit troubling that guests stole the show, but it was also notable for featuring new cast member Chloe Fineman doing a perfect Marianne Williamson, and Colin Jost leaving his head writer/Weekend Update perch to actually appear in a sketch, as Mayor Pete. Not a bad thing, all told.
Sun's Out Nevada
On a morning news show, Cecily Strong plays a correspondent covering the purchase of a giant Cheeto that prompted a family to launch the World's Largest Cheeto Museum, much to the chagrin of the proprietor's matriarchal figure, played by Aidy Bryant. Things go south when something bad happens to the Cheeto and the family similarly disintegrates in built up tension about this venture. Totally random but mercilessly short, this sketch was nothing more than Cheeto dust in the wind.
Performing "Bad Guy," Billie Eilish did something visually arresting. Placed in a box behind her bandmates, she appeared able to walk and dance on the walls beside and ceiling above her. Was it a camera trick? Yes? The camera work kept the effect a secret for a while, but then cut to wide shots that demystified the thing a bit, revealing some other kind of camera in some scaffolding or something. But whatever, it looked cool and put the song across memorably.
Like many musical performers before her, Eilish went huge for one song, and then did something comparably low-key and understated. This was the case here, with Eilish singing the wispy ballad, "i love you," accompanied by a guitar player/backup singer, in matching fabrics. A heartfelt and fine song, the lighting and cloud-like smoke show did give it all a blue mood, which suited the emotional performance.
Colin Jost and Michael Che received a warm, excited welcome from the crowd and jumped into the impeachment stuff, which generated a funny joke from Che about how America's long process likely tested John Wilkes Booth's patience. Jost got an applause break for a clever joke about Trump being a grammar Nazi and, then, unusually early, there was a correspondent desk piece.
Kenan Thompson broke out his one-dimensional David Ortiz impression (he says Spanish food dishes in a weirdly rhythmic and intense way) to cover the news story of his being injured in a shooting over the summer. After about seven more jokes, including Che's funny one about a woman biting a camel's nuts, a pretty funny Update was suddenly done, and it may well have been one of the shortest ones ever.
Harrelson played a football coach trying to give his team an inspiring halftime speech when he's interrupted by his new, teenaged lady friend, Trinity (Heidi Gardner), who discusses some issues he's been having with his penis. It becomes very difficult for the team to focus on his speech, because the coach's penis makes a sound a lot like Donald Duck, and starts to do so in the locker room. This was funnier than this weird writeup suggests, but it was also definitely pretty stupid too.
Inside the Beltway
Yet another politics parody, this panel show based in Texas featured Cecily Strong, Aidy Bryant, Harrelson, and Kenan Thompson covering the DC news highlights of the day. But despite most of the panelists suggesting that these new scandals are enough to take down this administration, Thompson's professorial candidate continues to suggest that "ain't nothing gonna happen," by showing old clips of the panelists themselves making similar predictions over the years. The hilarity here stemmed from the "clips" consisting of live transformations of the cast so that they appeared to be wearing different clothes and looking different, which went rather haywire, with a costume designer appearing in frame, and everyone (particularly Bryant), breaking to close out this ambitious idea for a sketch.
Making fun of how boring Downton Abbey might seem to non-fans, this faux commercial for the new movie highlighted how straining the show's ancient opulence can be and there was a funny twist at the end.
A Kyle Mooney remote, stylized in the late '80s/early '90s family sitcom mode, Mooney played a hurt, neglected son whose dad, played by Harrelson, is too busy with work to take care of his son. In a DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince/Fresh Prince of Bel-Air aesthetic, this drama was told as a music video, with great work by all involved, including Chris Redd as a featured rapper named Coby.
Chickham's Apple Farm
Bryant and McKinnon, who love working together, played older upstate New York sisters promoting their family apple orchard. Harrelson played a farmhand named Hank and, as the commercial continued, it took a dark, disturbing, scam-like turn, with McKinnon losing her shit mid-sketch for no apparent reason. This was a classic 12:55-so-who-cares limp finisher that only the host takes seriously, as spent cast members just kind of do whatever they can to get through it, and have as much fun for themselves as they can.